The American dream represents an optimistic ideology in which anyone, regardless of their background, can become successful. Yet, for many people across the nation, the American dream remains aloof; a cold, distant dream in which happiness remains unseen. Let me ask you this: How are Americans supposed to pursue their dreams when many don’t even have a roof over their head? According to the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness, over 3.5 million Americans live on the streets. No one can attain the American dream without first housing a dream.
Edward G. Goetz, professor of Urban and Regional Planning and director of the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs at the University of Minnesota and the author of New Deal Ruins, spoke about this problem at a public forum hosted by the UWT Urban Study program on May 13. He claims that public housing in America has fallen victim to demolition and privatization. The New Deal programs, which were historically initiated by President Franklin Roosevelt in the wake of the Great Depression, remind us that the government is ultimately responsible for ensuring that its people have access to basic living necessities. The historical significance of this is vital; the New Deal was one of the first pioneering actions taken by our government to alleviate poverty. Among the great New Deal programs was the unprecedented project of public housing.
Contrary to popular stereotypes, public housing is not about building fancy new complexes in order to “clean up” crime-ridden neighborhoods. It is “about public work, jobs, construction, and benefiting working classes,” said Goetz. Unfortunately, public housing has been criticized as a waste of public dollars.
Let me put it to you this way: Would you consider having great numbers of people sleeping on the streets a good thing?
Yet, as Goetz puts it, when it comes to public housing, “the political environment doesn’t exist anymore.” In recent years, many public housing units across this country have been either demolished or privatized. The lands of public housing units have been taken away by those who have big commercial ambitions. Here in Tacoma, a city that was once known for its high homeless population, we’ve made great progress toward expanding our public housing programs. Last year, when I was getting prepared to come to the UWT, some of my friends told me that I would need to watch out while walking the streets of Tacoma because Tacoma is a place where homeless people spend their days and nights.
Well, for the last several months, what I have experienced is not nearly as bad as what my friends described. Thanks to efforts made by the Tacoma Housing Authority (THA), several public housing units have been constructed and several public housing neighborhoods have emerged. According to the THA, 12,000 citizens— which represent six percent of the population here in Tacoma—are now living in warmth and safety.
Yet, there are things that still need to be done to reduce our homeless population in Tacoma. On a daily basis, I still see folks sleeping on sidewalks. I still see folks holding up signs that read, “Homeless, anything helps.” We must remember that homeless people have dreams like everyone else. They have hopes and aspirations like everyone else. And just like everybody else, they crave the warmth of a home, too. Let’s provide them with housing, because having a roof over your head isn’t a luxury, it’s a basic human right.